What is Custodial Interference & What Are The Legal Consequences?

Custody rights get put in place following a parental breakup. They are legally enforced and outline both where the child’s main house of residence is and how much time each parent gets with the child. When the parent who has not been granted custody attempts to disrupt these rights, this is known as custodial interference. However, as these rights are legally enforced, there may be serious legal consequences for the parent causing disruption.

In this article, we will talk through what custodial interference is in depth. We will also cover the different types of disruption and the associated legal repercussions.

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What is Custodial Interference?

To answer the question “What is custodial interference?” we first have to look at what custodial rights are. Following a separation or divorce, parents may go to the courts that will grant a custody arrangement. In all cases, the agreement is put in place to protect the child, and the child’s wellbeing is central to all court decisions.

Although each case is unique, typically one parent will be given sole or primary legal custody of the child, they are known as the custodial parent. The parental responsibilities of this guardian are more open, the child will live with them, and they can perform various activities without seeking approval. In comparison, the other parent will have partial custody and is usually given specific visitation rights. However, in cases of domestic abuse, there may be no right to see the child at all.

The agreement issued by the courts is legally binding and must be followed. When either parent deliberately interferes with these legal rights this is known as custodial interference.

Types of Custodial Interference

Types of Custodial Interference

There are several different types of custodial interference, and any disruption to the custody agreement by either the custodian or another person counts as a breach of legal rights. This is more common than many people think – in the middle of an intense custody battle parents often resort to desperate measures to see their child. Some common examples of custody interference include:

  • Failure to return the child at the right time following a planned visitation
  • Showing up for unplanned visitations at unapproved times
  • Preventing the child from contacting the other parent
  • Taking a child without consent, either from the other parent’s home or abroad
  • Speaking badly of the other parent in the hope to alienate the child from them
  • Denying the other parent the right to visitations
  • Visiting during the other parent’s scheduled time without permission

Any of these situations can put the child in danger and affect their mental or physical wellbeing. Even if a child is happy to overstay their visitation time, it is the obligation of both parents to ensure they are following the court order, and there can be legal consequences if not. Any deviation from the agreement can be seen as custodial interference.

However, in some situations, custody interference is not against the law. This happens when the parent is deliberately violating the legal rights if they believe it is for the true benefit of the child, such as to avoid physical injury or other dangers. If the child asks to stop seeing a parent without suggestion from the other, this also has no legal repercussions. For any defense attorneys working on custodial interference cases, imminent harm is a commonly accepted defense.

How to File Custodial Interference Charges

For any parent dealing with custodial interference, it is down to them to file the case. This can be done by contacting law enforcement and speaking to an officer who deals with child abduction or family cases. If there is any violence or kidnapping, law enforcement may arrest the parent responsible. However, for less severe cases – such as a parent frequently returning the child late after visitations – it is best to contact either a family lawyer or the courts.

The parent may be asked to file a petition for the custody arrangement to be enforced. During this, the courts will reiterate the rights agreed and inform both parties that they need to follow the guidelines laid out. If either parent still refuses to follow the lawful rights and ignores the order, there are legal consequences. Having looked into each case, the courts may also alter the existing rights based on the evidence they have been presented.

Legal Consequences of Custodial Interference

Legal Consequences

When a parent partakes in custodial interference it is considered a crime. Child custody rights are in place for good reason, and violation of the rights is punishable by both civil and criminal penalties. In most states, it is punishable by jail time. However, the laws of each state and the specifics of each case will hugely impact the charges given.

Most states will treat it as a misdemeanor and a district attorney will request a voluntary return of the child in good faith. Refusal to do so results in punishment. For example, in Connecticut, refusal to return a child to their lawful guardian is punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and/or a $2,000 fine. However, if the child is taken and transported out of state it becomes a felony. It is possible for the case to escalate to parental kidnapping and the parent will receive federal charges.


Custodial interference is where there is a violation of the custody rights granted by the court. Examples include not giving a child back following a visitation, denying the other parent the right to see them, or even influencing the child’s opinion of the other parent. Breaching lawful custody rights is a crime punishable by imprisonment in all states.

Anyone affected by the custodial interference should contact a family lawyer for legal advice. As an attorney, it may be best to initially recommend mediation to help rectify the situation. However, you can petition to the courts for more serious offenses to protect the rights of the lawful custodian. 

Article by James Finsweet

James Finsweet is a Head of legal department in LawBrother Ltd. At Lawrina, James contributes his experience in law practice and shares opinions on law regulations and news.

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